1136 GMT June 14, 2021
More than 65 kilometers northeast of Tehran, at a height of 5,610m, Mount Damavand is the highest mountain in the Middle East, and a worthy challenge for any accomplished mountaineer. Visible from Tehran on a clear day, the mountain is snow-capped all year round, and features prominently in Persian folklore and literature. Located in the Alborz Mountain range, reaching Damavand’s peak will take the best part of two days and earn you the eternal respect of any Iranians in your life.
The Turkmen Plains, or the Torkaman Sahra, lie in Iran’s northeastern region, bordering Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea. The seemingly interminable rolling green hills remain virtually untouched and tricky to access without your own car, but the views are simply spectacular. One focal point to head to is the Khaled Nabi Cemetery, notable for its tombstones. Also nearby is the famous 11th century tower structure Gonbad-e Qabus, memorialized in the West in Robert Byron’s travelogue The Road to Oxiana.
Lut Desert or Dasht-e Lut is one of Iran’s two great deserts, covering an area of over 50,000 square kilometers in the central eastern part of the country. Reportedly laying claim to the hottest land surface temperatures ever recorded, an astonishing 70.7 °C, it is not an ideal location for an afternoon picnic. Nevertheless, the weather beaten, moonscapes of the desert make an unforgettable venue for night-time camping beneath the stars, and the views at dawn are mesmerizing. Tour guides will take you from the city of Kerman for a reasonable fee. Be sure to check out the mysterious kaluts too, the famed giant rock formations of the desert.
The Dasht-e Kavir, or Kavir-e Namak (the Great Salt Desert), is Iran’s other massive desert, located in the center of the Iranian Plateau, northwest of Isfahan and Yazd. Harsh, barren, and unfathomably hot, you won’t want to wander the expanse aimlessly or unaccompanied, but it remains an impressive sight to behold. The Namak (Salt) Lake, 100 kilometers from Qom, is the most tourist friendly feature of the desert, the magnificent, white vastness of which will give the salt flats of Bolivia a run for their money.
A two-hour drive from the city of Kashan in Esfahan province, the Maranjab desert boasts some of the sandiest dunes in the country. Whilst most of Iran’s deserts are salt, rocky, or scrubland, Maranjab caters to more stereotypical desert fantasies. You can combine a tour with a visit to the Namak Lake, not far from here, with the option to rest your head in the remains of a 16th century caravanserai.